Blog Post By Jona Elwell

From the Archives: What is a Certified Arborist

As one of the few urban forestry nonprofits in the region, we get a lot of questions about tree maintenance and care. “Is this tree too close to my house?” “How should I prune my overgrown redbud?” “Something is wrong with my river birch, can you come take a look at it?” While we would love to provide thorough services to anyone and everyone in D.C., we simply do not have the resources.

How do you find quality tree services you can trust? Simple! A certified arborist! So why is hiring a certified arborist to inspect a tree in person so important?

General tree care (including watering, mulching and light pruning) can be properly done by almost anyone with some basic training, but assessing a tree’s greater needs and performing tasks (including any work within 10 feet for a utility, work that cannot be performed with hand tools, or work involving larger prunings or any sort of tree removal) should be performed by a professional with the tree’s best interest in mind.

Certified arborists are experienced professionals who have passed an extensive examination covering all aspects of tree care. These individuals are tested and certified by the International Society of Arboriculture. They can assess the health of your tree, diagnose diseases and pests, recommend alternatives to tree removal and generally determine the best next steps for your tree’s survival.

To locate an ISA certified arborist in the D.C., Maryland, Virginia area, go to the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the ISA at

When hiring an arborist, it is always prudent to:

  • Ensure they are at minimum certified by the ISA, and that their certification is valid. The ISA has various certification levels; the “Board Certified Master Arborist” is the highest.
  • Check references and work examples.
  • Check for liability, property damage, workers compensation and related insurances.
  • Ensure required permits and licenses are up-to-date.
  • Be wary of individuals driving around in pickup trucks offering low-cost tree removals and pruning services for cash-payments.

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